The limited options of President Zardari – By Shaheen Sehbai

Courtesy: The News

WASHINGTON: If the past is any guide, as we now know that all previous political upheavals were carried out according to the secret scripts written by key players of our omnipotent establishment, the latest political developments tell us that the noose is tightening around our president and he has to decide quickly which option he has to exercise so that he can survive politically, financially and probably even physically.

This scenario is evident because the script was written sometime back and its glimpses were also leaked to parts of the media for assuring all those who were getting too upset with the status quo that things will change. There are now undeniable signs that the desired changes have started to surface in different shapes and forms.

The key engine of change was to be the restored Supreme Court and its level of activity is now touching a crescendo. It has already exonerated Mian Nawaz Sharif of all bogus charges and convictions forced by Gen (retd) Musharraf. It has begun the trial, or whatever it may be called in legal terms, of Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf and is all set to disqualify all the PCO judges who collaborated with Musharraf before and after Nov 3, 2007.

The chief justice has clearly said the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) will be taken up soon, an event which will become the focus of all national politics and the power equilibrium will change. That means that if NRO beneficiaries are deprived of the political advantage they have enjoyed for several months, or a year or two, many of them may not even be able to stay in Pakistan or never come back to their country.

The PPP and its Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani have now started talking in exceptionally confident and aggressive terms, the latest statement made to Geo TV’s Hamid Mir stating categorically that he was ready to create history — which in other words suggests that he was about to stage a political and moral coup against his own party co-chairperson, Mr Zardari, because his government had turned into a joke and Mr Zardari, exercising all the powers, had failed to come up with any successful initiative or policy.

As part of the noose tightening, Mian Nawaz Sharif has refused to cooperate or bail out Mr Zardari any further after all the political cheating and beating that Mr Sharif was subjected to at the hands of Mr Zardari.

President Zardari, who took over charge of the PPP, national politics and then the government, after the tragic death of Benazir Bhutto, has wasted his crucial 18 to 20 months in forcing his own distorted form of politics and governance. The late PPP leader knew his capacity and that is probably the reason why Benazir Bhutto herself kept him away from politics and government after he was released by Gen Musharraf and allowed to leave Pakistan.

It is also now visible that Mr Zardari has now started to use his emotional cards, — the children of Benazir Bhutto, Bilawal, Bakhtawar and Asifa — as political crutches, to revive the fading fortunes of his own leadership and that of his party. This may be an indicator that he realises that his own strategy and tactics have not worked. He now thinks that the emotional appeal of Bilawal, Bakhtawar and Asifa can do something to save the sinking ship of his personal and private politics.

In such a grim scenario in which Nawaz Sharif has emerged as a better political player, the courts have regained the confidence to take up the highly sensitive cases of Musharraf, NRO and 17th Amendment, the prime minister has practically announced that he was no longer going to take dictation from the presidency. The US government, the IMF and the World Bank have almost refused to provide any cash aid or loan, as long as Mr Zardari was calling the shots, what options are left for the president to get out of this self-created mess?

The consequences of the coming events are too grave and obvious. If NRO is reopened and judged by the Supreme Court as a bad law, all the relief given to PPP leaders, sympathisers and even criminals in Karachi, will come to zero and a massive political exodus will begin, leaving little chance for Mr Zardari and his group of personal supporters to continue for long in their present positions.

The PPP in Sindh will have to reopen cases against the MQM, in thousands, and that will undoubtedly bring Karachi and most of Sindh to a standstill, as the MQM and the PPP would again be pitched against each other or against the forces which may come into power.

If Musharraf’s actions of 2007 are declared as null and void, it would be the ultimate signal that the Army has stopped protecting the former president and that would mean all those who cut deals with Musharraf and derived huge political and other benefits will also be left on their own to find their own safe exits or safe havens.

President Zardari has very few options, all not very appealing if his 18-month style of governance is any yardstick. One or two may still save him from the humiliation and suffering, similar to the one he had to face after the second dismissal of Benazir Bhutto’s government in 1996.

But Mr Zardari can begin by sincerely and quickly offering, without playing any games, an immediate repeal of the 17th Amendment and replacing it with a better 18th Amendment which may protect the good portions of the 17th and change the bad ones.

He can also let Prime Minister Gilani to take full charge, as the prime minister is now determined to do, whether Mr Zardari likes it or not. When Mr Gilani stands up, he will find himself surrounded by a lot of supporters, both with the PPP and other political forces in parliament, ensuring that despite Zardari’s ire, he would not be voted out. For Zardari, Premier Gilani may still be the best option because he would not only protect him from a 1996 type situation, he may even allow him to continue in the presidency and then look for a quiet and safe exit.

As a master stroke, Zardari can quit the presidency and stay as the co-chairperson of the PPP, leaving the presidency for a senior, mature person who could act as the figurehead that the Constitution would require him to be. As co-chairperson, he could hold genuine elections within the PPP so that the real potential of the party, people like Aitzaz Ahsan, Raza Rabbani, Sherry Rehman and many others get their due positions and bring back the lost credibility of the party in the eyes of the people. His stature would then be partially restored.

As a bonus he could himself sack all the cronies that have gathered around him, just because they served him in one capacity or another while he was in Musharraf’s jail. These faithful men and women have been very committed and dedicated to him but they have already been compensated and now need to go back to their professions. Stories of corruption led by these personal friends of the president are circulating in dozens and will become public as soon as the first crack appears in his political edifice.

From Pakistan Steel to PIA to Hashwani Group, KESC, power projects, PSO, French submarines, Chinese railway engines and a lot more, all these deals and decisions have a particular and a known stink which will pollute the atmosphere against the president in no time.

One sign that President Zardari knows where the situation is headed came two days back when he made a meaningful statement about fresh general elections. He reportedly said he would be the one who would preside over the new elections. That could mean anything but what is definite is that he sees fresh elections coming up on his political radar sooner than later.

If all of these options are not acceptable to Mr Zardari, then he should get ready for the inevitable, scripted scenario, which many have been predicting and which has now started to play out. It will take its time which may not be very generous in its span.

Lastly, I am often accused of writing only about President Zardari, but the fact is that his fate, and that of Pakistan, depends on what happens to him. I still consider him a good person and a friend but not now as a good politician. It may be too late for him to revive old confidence among his friends. I have refused to answer many phone calls that I have been getting from close confidants of Mr Zardari in the last few days — a sign that there is a lot of panic in the presidential cronies camp. Why, because the Zardari camp calls when they are in trouble and never when they are enjoying the goodies.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

5 thoughts on “The limited options of President Zardari – By Shaheen Sehbai”

  1. … – Prepaid journalist of ISI and NS, .. such a racist and cheap journalism plus belong to an anti pakistan media group !!!!!!!!!!!

  2. This is not only the pakistan of zardari , his family and co. This is not only the country of lottery, that is he and his co etc will loote it , fullup their pockets and make buildings in forn countries , making fool the people of pakistan , I swear i m not belonging to any party . My voice is voice of majority of pakistanis. one day will come , there will be no choice to looters of pakistan. their case will be in judiciary of AWAM and they will be punished badly for them. SO please i APPEAL to AWAM to shake hands ,get unite and bring INQILAAB which is the only solution . thanks alot .

  3. The people like Shaheen Sehbai can be clearly voiced … Shaheen Sehbai, is well known for playing fast and loose with facts. Just as background, let it be clear that Sehbai believes (possibly in all sincerity) that Pakistan’s direction should be set by “honest intellectuals” like himself.

    Sehbai himself brags that he wrote the ‘Charter of Democracy’ that helped Shaheed Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif bury the hatchet. But President Asif Zardari has not been sufficiently attentive to Sehbai’s advice so he has now been running a crusade against him and his government. From the day of President Zardari’s election, Sehbai’s line has been that Zardari should not be President and that it is only a matter of time before the army and the U.S. will force him out.

    Sehbai’s recent effort was to try and set the U.S. against the President of Pakistan and it is this move that got rebuffed by Ambassador Anne Patterson. In an article titled, “US says no direct money to PPP government” on Sept. 13, 2009, Sehbai claimed that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew had said the U.S. did not trust the Pakistani government and so could not give aid money to the government. Lew’s remarks are available online

    And a plain reading of Lew’s remarks did not bear out Sehbai’s story. But since Sehbai is his own boss as editor, his newspaper carried the story anyway. There are a lot of examples of Mr. Sehbai but I congratulate him for his great work, Shaheen Sehbai! You keep us amused although it is a shame that your work causes disruption and instability.

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